West Point Distinguished Graduate Awards

I recently traveled to West Point for the festivities around the annual Distinguished Graduate Awards (DGA) and the Alumni Parade.  The DGAs involved a dinner at Herbert Hall, our alumni building, and a parade to the statue of Sylvanus Thayer, and a Corps of Cadets parade.  As the Chairman of the Board of the Association of Graduates and a Distinguished Graduate, I had a leading role in the festivities.

Those chosen for DGA this year are special to me given it is my first class as Chairman and because many are my friends.  The six chosen are:

COL (Retired) Dr. Frederick D. Lough Jr., Class of 1970

Fred served for over fifty years in the Army as a cardiologist and surgeon.  He volunteered for multiple combat deployments and led the first medical unit to receive the Combat Action Badge for setting up a tented operating room after an improvised explosive device killed or wounded more than 45 soldiers and civilians in his unit.

COL (Retired) Lee A. Van Arsdale, Class of 1974

Lee Van Arsdale

Lee has the longest tenure of any West Point graduate in Special Forces and famed Delta Force.  While in Delta Lee hand cuffed Manuel Noriega during Just Cause in 1982 and in 1993 was part of the Battle of Mogadishu, more commonly known as Blackhawk Down.  While we all have tremendous respect for Lee, his records were difficult to obtain for the award since they are all Top Secret.

GEN John F. Campbell, Class of 1979

John was our Founders Day Speaker in Orlando for the West Point Society of Central Florida.  Over 37 years of service to the Army, John is the West Point graduate with the most time in combat, nearly five years—19 months in Iraq and 36 months in Afghanistan.  John retired as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.

BG (Retired) Becky Halstead, Class of 1981

I had Becky speak to a conference of female leaders in Cincinnati, when I was CEO of P&G.  Becky is synonymous with “firsts.”  She was in the first graduating class of women from West Point, the first woman officer from any service academy to be promoted to General, first woman to command at the strategic level troops in combat, and more.  She was the Commanding Officer of the Corps Support Command when it deployed as part of XVIII Airborne Corps to Iraq.  Becky has made a career speaking about STEADFAST leadership (solders, training, excellence, attitude, discipline, family and friends, accountability, service, and teamwork).

Alex Gorsky, Class of 1982

Alex Gorsky

Alex and Pat have been friends of Diane and mine for many years.  In 2013 we were both guests of IBM at The Masters golf tournament.  We played the course together on the Monday after the tournament.  In 2016 we attended the White House dinner for the Prime Minister of Italy together.  Alex is retiring as the Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson.  He spent six years as an Airborne, Ranger Artillery Officer.  I persuaded Alex, with the help of President Bush, to replace me this year as the April & Jay Graham Fellow at the Bush Center.

LTG (Retired) Dr. Nadja West, Class of 1982

Nadja was Surgeon General of the Army when I was Secretary of the VA.  She also served as a Senior Fellow at our McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character.  She entered West Point two years after it opened its doors to women.  She branched Ordinance, but then was selected to attend medical school.  She deployed in medical units for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield.  In 2013 she became the first Black female Major General in Army medicine.  In 2015 she became Surgeon General of the Army.

Class of 1972 Mini-Reunion

I went down to the Patton Bar, where I met with a group of G-2 company-mates from the Class of 1972.  They were at West Point celebrating their 50th Reunion.  My friends Bob Strong, Finance Professor Emeritus from the University of Maine, and Bruce Ritter, retired P&G Sales leader, met me.  Other members of the class were there.  They were seniors or firsties when I was a plebe.  We joked about how they hazed me.  I reconnected with Bob when I was Secretary of the VA and visited Maine.  Bob was the Captain of our Rifle Team, and an All American, who was a shoo-in for an Olympic Gold Medal, but President Carter pulled us out of the 1972 Olympics.  I knew Bruce at P&G over many years.

Following the mini-reunion, I traveled to Herbert Hall, our alumni center, for a meeting with our Campaign team.  I met with Todd Browne, President and CEO, Class of 1985; Kristin Sorenson, VP of Development; Claudia Phillips, Campaign Operations Manager; and Samantha Soper, Senior Director of Donor Relations & Advancement Services.  We went through the agenda for our first Campaign Cabinet meeting, which we will hold virtually.  Afterward we went downstairs to the Great Room, where we hosted the reception and dinner for the Distinguished Graduates and their families.  I sat a table with Todd, his wife Janet, Alex and Pat Gorsky, Mike White, and the Superintendent, LTG Darryl Williams, Class of 1983.  Todd read shortened biographies of the awardees.  It was a very impressive group.  We had a great dinner of Caesar salad, beef tenderloin, mushrooms, potatoes, and warm chocolate lava cake with blueberry tart (it was delicious!)

The Alumni Parade

On Tuesday, Todd Browne came by to get me and take me to what we call at West Point Library Corner.  It was here, at the corner of Diagonal Walk, that we formed up for the Alumni Parade.  This is the parade each year that is led by the Cadet First Captain, this year Cadet Holland Pratt, and the oldest living graduate present, in this case Colonel (Retired) Peter Russell, Class of 1942, currently 102 years old.  The order of March was the West Point Band, then a row of Todd Browne, me, COL Russell, and the Superintendent, Darryl Williams.  Cadets were already formed in ranks on either side of the statue of Sylvanus Thayer.  Cadet Pratt commanded.  Behind us in the first row were the six Distinguished Graduate Awardees.  Behind them were the classes holding their reunions this week:  1945 (80 years), 1946, 1952 (70 years), and 1972 (50 years).

Honoring The Founder of West Point

It is a solemn ceremony honoring the Founder of the Academy, Sylvanus Thayer, but also the Long Gray Line.  The Glee Club sang “The Corps” and “The Alma Mater.”  The Chaplain gave an invocation.  COL Russell insisted on getting out of his wheelchair, which was pushed by a couple of Plebes, walking to the statue with Cadet Pratt, and placing the wreath into position.  He had his son and grandson at the event.

Peter Russell

We then went to the grandstand for the Alumni and DGA Parade.  I stood with the Superintendent and the six DGA’s.  After the Corps marched on, Cadet Pratt led the colors to the Superintendent, and announced the Corps was assembled.  The six DGAs then marched out to form a row parallel to the Corps and the review stand.  The Superintendent joined me as I put the DGA medal over the head of each recipient.  It was an honor for me to do this, recalling when I received my DGA, and to be on the Plain with the Superintendent at West Point on a gloriously beautiful, sunny day.  The Corps then passed in review with the Superintendent, DGA’s, me, and more as the reviewing party.

DGA Luncheon

We then went to Washington Hall, the Cadet Mess Hall, where we had the DGA lunch.  I was at the head table with the Superintendent, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marty Dempsey, Class of 1974 and DGA the same year as me, and his wife Deanie; COL Russell, his son and grandson; Cadet Pratt; and DGA recipient General (Retired) John Campbell and his wife.  Marty was Chairman when I was Secretary of the VA, plus he teaches at Duke, so we had a lot to catch up on.  Todd Browne MCed the lunch.  He played a video of the life of each DGA recipient, then the recipient came forward, received their large diploma-like certificate, and then had their picture taken with Todd, the Supe, and me.

Todd Browne Speaking

DGA Reception

Afterward Todd and I went to together to the receptions held by the DGA recipients for their guests.  We went to the Haig Room of Jefferson Hall, the former Officers’ Club, and Hotel Thayer for the receptions where some of the recipient’s joined others in hosting the receptions.

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